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Vancouver celebrates 30 years of pro soccer this Friday

Bob Mackin, Contributor

Friday night's all right for remembering Vancouver soccer history.

Vancouver Whitecaps and 86ers' alumni will celebrate the last 30 years of professional soccer in Vancouver when the 2004 edition of the Whitecaps hosts the Seattle Sounders in an A-League match.

The evening will highlight the 30th anniversary of the Whitecaps inaugural North American Soccer League season and 25th anniversary of the Whitecaps' Soccer Bowl championship. Duty, however, will keep Richmond's Neil Ellett away.

Ellett played for the Whitecaps in their first two NASL seasons and scored only one goal - the first in franchise history on May 5, 1974 at Empire Stadium on the Pacific National Exhibition grounds.

"It would be fun to be there, but them's the breaks," said Ellett, who will be in Terrace as a referee assessor during the B.C. Youth B-Cup tournament. "That (goal) was quite a thrill, they can never take that away from you."

San Jose Earthquake Mani Hernandez opened scoring in the third minute. Ellett replied in the 37th. The teams went scoreless for the rest of the match. San Jose registered the victory with a 7-6 advantage in the penalty kick tiebreaker. The score was officially recorded as 2-1.

The 1989 version of the 86ers, recently inducted into the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame, will also be feted. That team won the Canadian Soccer League championship and set a modern North American pro sports record with a 46-game unbeaten streak. The 86ers, once owned by Richmond's Milan Ilich, adopted the Whitecaps name in 2001. The original Whitecaps and the NASL ceased operations after the 1984 season. The 86ers debuted in 1987.

Friday will also be the kickoff to fan balloting for the all-time Vancouver XI. Fans are being invited to choose their favourite Whitecaps and 86ers.

Late Richmond resident John Craven, who captained the 1979 squad, is among the candidates for the all-time Vancouver defence. Craven and the Whitecaps won the league championship 2-1 over the Tampa Bay Rowdies in 1979.

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